EDITORIAL: Police chief  ’s departure a chance for progress

John Diaz retired as Seattle’s Police Chief last Monday, after four years marred by mishandlings of unrest, overuse of violence, and resistance from the Police Department to mandated reforms.

Although his departure is coming at an inopportune time, it’s a good thing for Seattle.

Police chief is a multifaceted job. The chief has to be a good communicator and set a strong example. The chief has to deal with the media, the public, the mayor, his own police officers, and other internal issues. Chief Diaz could not. While we cannot comment on his relationship with his staff and with the mayor’s office, Diaz’s relationship with the public and with the media was severely lacking. The soft-spoken chief tended to stay out of the limelight, and while that may be commendable in some situations, it’s not suitable for the leader of a police department with horrible image issues going through sweeping federally mandated changes — the largest changes the department has seen in, well, ever.

The Seattle Police Department has nearly 2,000 staff members, each with extraordinary pressure to do the right thing. You don’t lead a group of people that large from the rear.

And, although Diaz was Seattle’s first police chief of color, he didn’t feel like it. Even after four years as chief, the department is still very white.

Chief Diaz came from an immigrant family. English was his second language. His success helped change his family’s perception of the police. It helped them learn to trust the department. But under his management, communities of color have seen very little improvement. While women members of the force are better off now, the police department still has chronic hiring and promotion issues for officers of color — especially when it comes to Asian Americans, who are still the most underrepresented group on the police force. Internal and external racism is still a big issue with the Seattle Police Department.

Time will tell how Interim Chief Jim Pugel will perform. But what do we know now? He is already less reserved and more outspoken than Diaz. And that is a good, good thing. (end)

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